NYC Vine­yard on the UES Owned by 89-Year Old Iraqi Jew

The Jewish Voice - - NEW YORK - By: He­len Zaboulani

Did you know the Up­per East Side of Man­hat­tan has a vine­yard? Most peo­ple don’t. The owner is 89-year-old Iraqi Jew, Latif Jiji. The wine named Chateau Latif, is not li­censed for sale, but is rather shared with fam­ily and friends. For the past 50 years, he and his wife Vera have turned their 15-by-45-foot back­yard into a win­ery. All the grapes come from one sin­gle vine, grow­ing from their gar­den and oddly creep­ing more than 100 feet up the ex­te­rior wall and onto their roof. Jiji did not ini­tially in­tend to make wine. He only wished to add dis­tinc­tion to their yard. In 1984, their first har­vest bore 24 pounds of grapes, which would be suf­fi­cient to make nine bot­tles of wine. Their vine­yard’s high record now stands at 712 pounds of grapes in a sin­gle har­vest.

Their wine is white, dry and “fruity”. Har­vest time is usu­ally 10-days in the mid­dle of Septem­ber. Jiji has made a wine cel­lar in the base­ment, along with ma­chin­ery to process the grapes, as well as a cus­tom re­frig­er­a­tor that he built him­self, prob­a­bly guided by his en­gi­neer­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. They wait two weeks for the sugar in the juice to be con­verted into al­co­hol, and an­other nine to 12 months for the sed­i­ment to set­tle and the liq­uid to take the shape of wine. And fi­nally, it’s time for L’chaim.

As re­ported by VIN News, Jiji says his pas­sion for wine “came from be­ing Jewish in Iraq, cel­e­brat­ing Passover.” His fa­ther grew grapes and made wine in the court­yard of their home in the Iraqi port city of Basra. The ma­jor­ity of the peo­ple there were Mus­lims who did not drink al­co­hol, but Jews and Chris­tians were free to make and drink their own wine. As Jiji told JTA, life was peace­ful in Basra dur­ing his child­hood. The town had roughly 10 syn­a­gogues and two Jewish schools.

Then in 1941, Iraq made a brief al­liance with Nazi Ger­many pro­vok­ing a Bri­tish in­va­sion. Ri­ot­ing and loot­ing broke out in the city tar­get­ing Jewish neigh­bor­hoods and busi­nesses. The pogrom be­came known as Farhud, or “vi­o­lent dis­pos­ses­sion” in Ara­bic. The neigh­bor­ing city of Bagh­dad fared far worse. Not only was there loot­ing, but close to 200 Jews were mur­dered there, with many more in­jured. Jiji’s fam­ily was safe, and they opened their home to Jews flee­ing from more dan­ger­ous ar­eas. “Jewish peo­ple, of course, were fright­ened,” Jiji said. “Friends and rel­a­tives started to come to our house; we had prob­a­bly about 50 peo­ple. We gave up our beds, my sib­lings and I. I re­mem­ber sleep­ing on the floor with only a towel for a pil­low for days.”

“A lot of peo­ple in the house started talk­ing about what to do if we were at­tacked. We had no arms, but we had long sticks and at the end of the long sticks we put a bolt. We car­ried them around in case some­one tried to break down the door, but no one did,” Jiji re­calls.

Even­tu­ally, things calmed down, but their peace of mind was gone. The Farhud opened the fi­nal chap­ter of 2,700 years of Jewish life in Iraq. In 1948, when the U.N. voted to cre­ate the State of Is­rael, Jiji’s fam­ily cel­e­brated, but they also knew that their wel­come in Iraq was cul­mi­nat­ing.

Jiji left for the United States. Within ten years, the rest of his fam­ily would all flee to the U.S. or Is­rael. He en­rolled in Hope Col­lege in Michi­gan, later trans­fer­ring to the Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy, and earn­ing a de­gree in en­gi­neer­ing. It was then that he re­ceived a de­mand from the Iraqi gov­ern­ment to ei­ther re­turn to Iraq or have his cit­i­zen­ship re­voked. He stayed away, and be­came state­less, pos­sess­ing a stu­dent visa but no pass­port at all. He con­tin­ued his stud­ies, re­ceiv­ing a doc­tor­ate from the Univer­sity of Michi­gan. In 1954, he met and mar­ried his wife Vera, the daugh­ter of Hun­gar­ian Jewish im­mi­grants liv­ing in the Bronx. He be­came a U.S. ci­ti­zen in 1961. Jiji taught en­gi­neer­ing at nu­mer­ous uni­ver­si­ties, in­clud­ing the City Col­lege of New York, where he worked un­til he re­tired in 2014. Jiji and his wife raised four beau­ti­ful chil­dren to­gether, and a beau­ti­ful vine­yard. His story is but one in the vast city in NY.

“Friends and rel­a­tives started to come to our house; we had prob­a­bly about 50 peo­ple. We gave up our beds, my sib­lings and I. I re­mem­ber sleep­ing on the floor with only a towel for a pil­low for days.”

Did you know the Up­per East Side of Man­hat­tan has a vine­yard? Most peo­ple don’t. The owner is 89-year-old Iraqi Jew, Latif Jiji. The wine named Chateau Latif, is not li­censed for sale, but is rather shared with fam­ily and friends

In June 1941, a Nazi-in­spired pogrom erupted in Bagh­dad known as the Farhud. 180 Jews were killed and 2,000 were in­jured.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.